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Improving efficiency will make the forest's resources last longer

The transition to fossil-free makes biomass an extremely sought-after raw material, not least in Sweden. But in order for the forest's renewable carbon atoms to go further, more efficient processes are needed in the forest industry, as well as smarter use of residual forestry products. And better policy instruments that boost domestic production.

Slaughterhouse waste and resources from agriculture are important raw materials for fuel today. But it is branches, treetops, bark and wood chips from forestry and by-products such as lignin from the pulp mills that are the big sources of the next generation of carbon-based fuels, chemicals and materials. In the long run, the needs are enormous.

RISE researcher Erik Furusjö almost giggles that “no, the forest won’t be enough for everything” apropos of the fact that many industries claim the forest resources. It is about taking full advantage of what exists, to use the biomass more efficiently than today.

“But the forest can be used for much more than it is today. Even in the future, there are some products that will need to contain carbon atoms. Things like paper, plastics, some fuels. We need to use the forest for them, and use biogenic carbon where it does the most good,” he says.

Upgraded instead of burnt up

Erik Furusjö points out that many of the by-products of sawmills and pulp mills are burned. Bark and sawdust have limited demand today and are normally incinerated. Separating and refining lignin from the mill's black liquor is not yet a standard process.

“By-products need to become more valuable. They need to be upgraded and refined into other things. This is needed so that we can achieve higher, preferably almost total, efficiency in the forest value chain.”

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“In the short term, more policy instruments are needed so that we can get greater resource efficiency and added value from the forest raw material. Today, there is no incentive for pulp mills to become more efficient and burn less because higher prices for bark and lignin have not yet broken through.”

He says that, for example, the reduction obligation – which forces a higher blend of renewable fuels – has not been enough to promote sufficient product development and domestic production.

Before markets are established, there must be partnerships that secure the value chain

More innovation is needed

Erik Furusjö is looking for more innovation in the forest industry, although there are some good examples.

“For example, Stora Enso has a number of lignin projects, including carbonisation to make parts for batteries. And several forest companies are putting resources into investigating new processes for the manufacture of fuels and chemicals.

“There is great potential to collaborate with us at RISE, to develop new products from lignin, for example. In-house research and development at many major stakeholders is rather limited at present, but they collaborate with universities and institutes such as RISE.”

Affect value chains

New processes and end products also affect value chains. Established partnerships need to be reviewed, new friendships forged. Preem's and Setra's joint venture Pyrocell is one such example.

The plant for processing sawdust into bio-oil was inaugurated in autumn 2021 in Setra's area outside Gävle. The oil is driven down to the Preem refinery in Lysekil for processing into renewable fuel.

"This pyrolysis oil didn't exist before. It needed a joint venture and building collaboration across the value chains.”

Erik Furusjö views the collaboration between the forest giant SCA and the energy group St1 in the same way. Their joint venture is now investing in a new biorefinery in Gothenburg to refine tall oil from SCA's various pulp mills into renewable fuels such as HVO diesel and bio-jet fuel.

“Before markets are established, there must be partnerships that secure the value chain. Pyrolysis oil was just not on the market: if they want it, they must cooperate, at least in the start-up phase.”

Johan M Ahlström

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Johan M Ahlström

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+46 10 228 45 35

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